During the Qajar dynasty, music became more present both in the courts of the kings and among people. Along with some of his reformist actions, Nassereddin Shah’s (1831-1896) three trips to the European countries and attending some concerts reminded him of the importance of music in society. His reformist Prime Minister, Amir Kabir (1808-1952) invited the musician and Târ player Ali Akbar Farâhâni (~1820~1861) to create and organize some material for teaching classical Persian music to students. Beside his mastery in Târ and classical Persian music, Farâhâni was from the city of Farâhân where Amir Kabir was also from. His mission was to create a repertoire for teaching classical Persian music, which seems to be an imitation of how music was taught in Europe. Farâhâni started to gather all the melodies he had heard and organized them into groups.

Up until then, Persian music was confined to the pre-Safavid Maqâmi music which had gradually faded away and forgotten due to the Safavid restrict religious rulings on banning music. Meanwhile there are some similarities between Maqâmi music and Radif based music, and many names and titles are shared. Moreover, while Ali Akbar Farâhâni began collecting different melodies and organizing them, he didn’t invent this music, rather he retrieved, reorganized, and propagated it. Farâhâni shared his knowledge by teaching these melodies to his students on Târ, including his nephew Aqâ Gholâm Hossein (d. 1886). After his death around the age of 40, his two sons Mirzâ Abdollah (1843-1918) and Aqâ Hossein-Qoli (1851-1915) began learning music under the supervision of Aqâ Gholâm Hossein. Farâhâni’s sons continued their father’s mission and learned the melodies that their father compiled, and named them Gusheh. In Persian Gusheh refers to ‘a part of something,’ and since these melodies became the components of Radif, the term Gusheh was used to describe them. Since all of these melodies were traditionally developed and preserved, each Gusheh has a unique name because of various reasons such as its musical function or its connection to a specific poetic rhythm. On the other hand, some of the Gushehs are named after a person, a city, or simply has a proper noun. Although there is no record of Farâhani and his sons traveling to different parts of the country, some of the Gushehs are also related to various folk music of Iran.

While it was Ali Akbar Farâhâni who started to organize a repertoire for classical Persian music, the first Radifs were completed and taught by his sons, Mirzâ Abdollah and Aqâ Hossein-Qoli. Each of them had their own Radif, which are different from one another in terms of the number of Gushehs, and musical details of the melodies. Even today, renowned musicians have their own Radif and teach it to their students, but they are all inspired by Farahâni’s sons’ Radifs and follow the same concept and principles. It must be noted that since Mirzâ Abdollah and Aqâ Hossein-Qoli were Târ players their Radifs were also for instrumentalists and mainly for the Târ players.

The Farahâni brothers compiled over 200 Gushehs and organized them in 7 Dastgâhs, and 5 Âvâzes. The categorization of these Gushehs was done based on their shared intervals and musical commonalities. Each of these 7 Dastgâhs, and 5 Âvâzes has a specific name and function as a modal system that unifies several melodic ideas or Gushehs. In Persian the term Dastgâh refers to a ‘system’, and Âvâz refers to ‘singing’ or ‘a song.’ Indeed Dastgâh is a term used to reflect on the complexity of each modal system and while Âvâz has a similar function it also refers back to the importance of poetry and singing. On the other hand, Dastgâhs have a more complex musical structure than Âvâzes. Traditionally 4 of the 5 Âvâzes are derived from one of the Dastgâhs, and the other Âvâz is derived from another Dastgâh. Although each Âvâz functions as an independent modal system, they share intervals and other musical elements with the Dastgâh that they are derived from. One can argue that categorizing Gushehs in 7 Dastgâhs and 5 Âvâzes was related to the importance of numbers 5, 7 and the sum of them, 12. These numbers are mythical in Persian culture, mainly inspired by religious beliefs. For examples the five books of Nezami Ganjavi (12th century poet) is known as Khamsa (Quintet or Quinary), the seven books of Rumi (13th century poet) called Masnavi, or the metaphoric use of seven seas, and the seven firmaments in poetry, as well as the 12 Shiite Imams, or the five holy figures of Islam, and even the 12 months of the year, the seven continents of the world and the five oceans. Beside all of these extra-musical contexts, some accomplished musicians reorganized this system by expanding some of the Gushehs and categorizing them into new Âvâzes—since they were not as complex to be called Dastgâh. “Kord-o Bayât” or “Bayât-e Kord” is one example of this kind and in some performances the name “Shushtari” was used as an Âvâz, while traditionally it is a name of a Gusheh. Today the majority of Persian musicians use the Farahâni family’s categorization of 7 Dastgâhs, and 5 Âvâzes.

Mirzâ Abdollah and Aqâ Hossein-Qoli taught their Radifs to students using oral tradition. Although there were some music notation techniques in the past, classical Persian music has been always traveled through generations by oral tradition. Even today with all of the available notation and recording resources in hand, the essence of this music is transmitted orally. On the other hand, the interest of imitating the European music education attracted musicians to document Radif using Western music notation system. Mehdi Qoli Hedâyat (1863-1955) was the first person who started notating Radif but never published his work so the first version of the Radif was not published until 1962. In the early 60s the cultural ministry invited renowned musicians and Radif experts such as, Nur-Ali Borumand (1905-1977), Ali-Akbar Shahnazi (1897-1985), Abolhasan Saba (1902-1957), Ahmad Ebadi (1906-1993), Rokneddin Mokhtari (1887- 1970), and Musa Maroofi (1889-1965) to meet and discuss the different Radifs and create one comprehensive version. Due to extreme disagreements these meetings didn’t have a particular outcome. Finally in 1962 Radif of Musa Maroofi was selected for publication. His Radif is based on both Mirzâ Abdollah and Aqâ Hossein-Qoli’s Radifs and it was comparable to the version that Mehdi Qoli Hedâyt had notated. Mua Maroofi’s notated Radif was also recorded by Soleyman Rouhafza (1907-1980) playing Târ. Other versions of Mirzâ Abdollah and Aqâ Hossein-Qoli’s Radifs were preserved by Morteza Neydavood (1900 -1990), Noor-Ali Borumand, and Abolhasan Saba to name a few, which later were notated by their students.

As mentioned previously, all of these Radifs were compiled by mostly Târ players or instrumentalists. This is why Abdollah Davâmi (1891-1981), a singer who studied with Mirzâ Abdollah and Aqâ Hossein-Qoli, decided to collect a vocal Radif. The main difference between vocal and instrumental Radifs is the abilities that can be found in instruments, which leads to a higher number of Gushehs compared to vocal Radif. Davâmi’s Radif was inspired by his teachers’ Radifs as well as vocal melodies he heard from different parts of the country. On the other hand, the first vocal Radif was recorded and published by Mahmood Karimi (1927-1984) who studied with Abdollah Davâmi. Karimi used his teacher’s Radif, while changing some of the poems, reorganizing some Gushehs, and adding new Gushehs. A few years later, Davâmi recorded his own Radif in his declining years.

While all of these versions of Radifs were recorded in the capital city of Iran, the most celebrated Persian Ney player Hassan Kassaie (1928-2012), recorded three versions of his Radifs in three different periods of time in Isfahan. His recordings were done on Ney, Vocals and Setâr, and another version on Ney. Since Ney has a lot in common with the voice, it is the only instrument for which vocal Radif is mainly used for teaching. This is why Kassaie has recorded both vocal and instrumental Radifs, and his versions can be seen as a bridge between the two, not only because of his main instrument, Ney, but also because of how he emphasized on the importance of poetry in classical Persian music.

Overall, Iran’s long history and unique geographics create a diverse society, which is a home to several different cultures such as Azeri, Kurdish, Khorassani, Gilaki, Luri, etc. While all these cultures have their own unique languages and dialects, Persian language and literature is the unifying element. Radif also functions as the shared language in Persian music, while it is inspired by these diverse musical cultures and is strongly tied to poetry and history.